Monday, September 24, 2018

The Northern Lights & The Rock In My Shoe

Story time kids.

When the entity I usually only refer to as "The Band"...meaning "PORTLAND'S ORIGINAL ALTER EGO!" (as our T-shirts proudly proclaimed) was on the road and work at home was drying up we found that of the scores of local bands a mere 3 years earlier there were only two still working full time...and one of them was Alter Ego.

That's how bad things were in the local scene.
I've often said that a magazine article which once dubbed Portland Oregon "The next Motown!" thanks to our thriving live music scene must have angered the rock & roll gods because just a month after publication of that glowing article the lights in the clubs began to go out, one by one.

What this meant was that my comrades and I, who used to only have to go on the road for a week every month or two, now had to go on the road for a month at a time in order to keep working.
Then it was two months on the road.
Then three.
And then...
Yeah, we pretty much had to stay on the road because all of the top rooms at home had "gone dark" as they say.

Then one day, our wonderful ... our beautiful...agent called us with great news;

A trip to Alaska!
We would play every town, every sports bar and every hotel worth playing.
We were going to make some serious scratch and experience Alaskan hospitality!

And what about those Northern Lights they have up there?

We heard constantly about the Northern Lights AKA The Aurora Borealis.
It was a light show better than anything Timothy Leary could have imagined even while doing the Tango with the purest Lysergic acid diethylamide.

Everywhere we went in Alaska folks would ask "Have you seen the Northern Lights yet?"
When we would tell them 'no' we would be reassured that when we did it would touch our very souls.

Our souls!

Sort of a kaleidoscope of wonder rolled out by the almighty himself.

But surely we would see them by the time we got to Anchorage? Nope.
Nome? Uh-uh.
Ketchikan? Nein.
Sitka? Nyet.
Fairbanks, Seward, Homer, Juneau?
No no no no.

I was beginning to think this whole "Northern Lights" concept was a prank they enjoyed playing on outsiders and had somehow convinced the folks at National Geographic to go along (thanks to bribery involving fish-heads and seal pelts).

So, two plus years in Alaska with a 5 month break in the middle to tour South Korea and Japan leads us to where my story unfolds;

This trip so far from home and the comfort of my own bed had started out quite promising;
We were going to come home the conquering heroes with loads of cash and the local music scene would have certainly recovered by then and our resume would now make us the most desired band in the land by those greedy club-owners (yeah...neither of those things happened).

But, worse yet, was that the very last 4 months or so found us working in clubs that had simply not kept their end of the deal...paying less than they had agreed to, forcing us to cover many of our own expenses which should have been paid by them and, worse of all, the return trip home was to be paid for by the final club in the circuit and...sorry guitar player.
No bueno.

Sue me when you get back to the lower 48 if you'd like.

So we headed home, broken financially, broken hearted and then something else broke...
the axle on our trailer.

There we were in the middle of the Yukon. 3 AM.

Nothing as far as the eye could see but blackness all around and then a sickening "SNAP" and "THUD" as the poor rear axle on our trailer, full of our equipment, clothes and that last box of Ramen noodles, broke and caused everything to skid to a stop.

In the middle of nowhere.

The amount of discouragement and resignation that descended upon us was only one more layer on top of the defeat we had been feeling for the past several months.

This, kids, is how you spell "Despair".

And on top of all I could feel a rock in my shoe.
But at this point I didn't even have the energy to take my shoe off and shake it out.

"What the hell are we going to DO?!?"

I don't remember if I cried or not but boy, I sure felt like it.

After about a half hour of us all looking at one another and saying things like "What did we do to deserve this?" and "I'm going to kill that #*@king agent when we get home!" and "Do you think bears are going to get us?!?...can't we just give them that last packet of Ramen?" a guardian angel descended from heaven in the form of an old pickup truck and some locals (actual local humans...not bears) asking us what happened and why we were just sitting in the middle of the Yukon at 3AM.

We told them about the broken axle and they informed us that if we unhooked our vehicle there was a small camp resort a few miles off the beaten path and if we stayed there until morning there was a service station with a mechanic who also JUST HAPPENS to be a welder.

So, off they went and we just sat down for a few minutes to discuss who would stay behind with the equipment and who would go ahead and come back with a tow truck when the sun came up in a few hours.

We were still broken, tired and hungry and then...

"Look up!" one of my band-mates said and so I did...and there it was.

The Aurora Borealis.

And yes, it was as glorious, awe-inspiring and divine of a sight as we had always been told it was.

And what did I say? "There IS a God!"
Don't make me laugh. I said no such thing.

I said "Pretty fitting huh? We finally get to see this amazing thing when we feel like we've been chewed up and spat out and cannot possibly enjoy it.
For the rest of my life whenever I hear 'Northern Lights' I'm just going to remember this hellish soul-crushing experience."

I could feel that damn annoying rock in my shoe even more now.

Well, needless to say we survived and made it home and started the next chapter in our lives.
The club scene had not improved and it was back to square one.

Not long after that the band went by the wayside and we all got those dreaded "Straight jobs" as we used to call them.

Cut to a few years later;
One day I was telling a friend about the many trials and tribulations of "The Band", our Alaskan adventure, the story of the broken axle, our narrow escape from the bears in the Juniper bushes, and the ironic timing of the Northern Lights.

"Yep", I said, "That trip was one of the biggest disappointments of my life".

He looked at me in amazement...not so much by the stories I had just shared but by my lack of appreciation for the experience.

He said "You traveled in a ROCK BAND and went to Japan?
You got to party in Seoul?
You got to be at the finish line for the Iditarod?

And you got to see the Aurora Borealis...not on TV or in a magazine but in person from a vantage point in the middle of the Yukon!
Hell, everyone has car problems and experiences financial troubles now and then...but all that other stuff?
Most people only get to read about those sorts of things in books!

You lived it!"

I was almost stunned at the realization that I had experienced all of!

I'd been so distracted by the things that did not turn out as I'd hoped that I failed to notice what was happening...every day, every mile and all around me the whole time.

So...the moral to the story?

Maybe not a moral but a realization;

The amazing things, the awe-inspiring things and the miraculous things...
They don't happen at just the right time in just the way or environment that you would like them to.

No, they happen oftentimes without us noticing or at a time when we are at our lowest.
And some of them?
They are happening for you and I right now in a million tiny ways and someday we will look back and see them and then wonder how we did not recognize them at the time they were actually happening.

So there you go. That's the story.

And by the way...I was sweeping the floor the other day and found a funny little rock about the size of a pea on the floor.
I had no idea where it came from but I picked it up and looking at it reminded me of that rock in my shoe at 3AM in the Yukon.

I looked at it and, making certain nobody else was around to hear me, whispered "You didn't follow me home....did you?"


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